The Problem of Loyalty

Many people I know are mourning the upcoming inauguration. Trump has been elected, he’s readying his cabinet (oh god, the cabinet…), but the inauguration hasn’t even happened yet and even Krauthammer is saying The Honeymoon Is Over.

Look, I’m never going to like Donald Trump. I think he’s in the category for Top 5 Worst Presidents and he hasn’t even been elected yet. (That list, by the way, includes Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson, and Herbert Hoover. Fill in your favorite for the other guy.) The man is the living embodiment to Millenial Crybaby Whining and he’s almost 70. The 3AM twitter rants, his “victory lap” around the US (did he even finish that? I don’t remember – maybe it was interrupted by a tweet-storm.), and his constant vacillation from one stance to another, really bothers the shit out of me. I mean, say what you will about Obama (and you will) at least he was predictable.

If you haven’t read Jonah Goldberg’s latest G-file, you should. He rightly points out one of the biggest problems facing America in general, but Conservatives and Trump’s administration in particular: emotional correctness. Trump’s biggest problem is that he demands loyalty at all costs. He wants yes-men, he wants his ideas supported, he wants his ego stroked, and he rewards that (much like any administration has) by giving sweetheart deals and cabinet positions to his most loyal supporters. Goldberg writes:

On the right, Never Trump has become a convenient psychological crutch for dismissing inconvenient arguments. Like the ever-metastasizing phrase “fake news,” it’s waved like a magic wand to make any threatening claim disappear without having to deal with it on the merits. Marxists used to use the term “false consciousness” in much the same way: to head-off threatening facts or arguments by attacking motives. When I point out that until a few months ago Republicans and conservatives despised crony capitalism or “picking winners and losers,” the instant reply amounts to: “When are you going to get over your Never Trump obsessions?” The upshot of all of these responses is “Get with the program,” “Get on board the Trump Train,” or “Get on the right side of history.”

Loyalty at all costs is the sign of a weak regime. Of groups and people who are afraid that their underlying ideology is so fragile that any negative comment, any questioning, even the whiff of insufficient enthusiasm, can cause it to come crumbling down. If we can’t question our own beliefs, how can we embrace them and make them stronger? I’ll borrow a quote from G.K. Chesterton here:

  • “What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism.”  – Sidelights on New London and Newer New York

We must be able to exercise self-criticism, and criticism of our heroes and leaders. We are not perfectly moral and righteous people (if we are, why do we still struggle with morality and righteousness?), and none of our ideals or leaders are either. If we place Trump beyond criticism, what happens when he does things that are truly wrong? We cannot simply sit back and pass off all criticism of our leaders as mere “Nobama” or “Never Trump” or “Killary” or whatever other epithet we choose to label it. We cannot move forward if we are closing our eyes to what is right in front of us and blindly pretending that it is glorious and golden.

Let us not also forget the history of dissent in this country – not just Alexander Hamilton and The Federalist Papers during the enlightenment, but even to the Puritans who dissented to English rule (much as I disagree with them), down through the numerous decades of journalistic dissent, popular dissent, protest…. Ideas don’t change and become better if you just accept the first version that comes across your desk.

I’ll leave you with a final thought in the form of a quote from Mr. Chesterton.

  • “I have formed a very clear conception of patriotism. I have generally found it thrust into the foreground by some fellow who has something to hide in the background. I have seen a great deal of patriotism; and I have generally found it the last refuge of the scoundrel.” – The Judgement of Dr. Johnson, Act III

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